The new semester has finally started at RGGU. We have only had one full week of classes, while students at Holy Cross are already dealing with midterms! It can be difficult to keep a sense of time without the regular rhythm of the American education calendar. This semester I am joined by Frank, another Holy Cross student, and Sofia, a student from Dickinson College.
The first trip of the semester was a weekend in Kazan, the capital of the autonomous region of Tatarstan. Kazan is 11 hours south of Moscow by train, but you wouldn’t know it from the weather! As the largest country in the world, cultural blending comes with the territory in Russia (see what I did there?). Kazan is a curious mixture of Orthodox Christians and Muslims, Russians and Tatars and many other people.
The Kazan Kremlin is the only kremlin (fortress) in Russia that has a mosque inside it. The Kul Sharif mosque was destroyed by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, then rebuilt and reopened in 2005 to mark the millennium of Kazan. Our excursion guide also showed us the Orthodox church just outside the kremlin walls, and explained that the bell in the tower of the fortress only tolls twice a day in order to avoid disrupting the Muslim call to prayer.
We also visited the archaeological site of the medieval city of Bolgar. It was once the most powerful city on the mighty Volga River, a significant part of the Mongols’ Golden Hoarde, and the northernmost ancient Muslim city. Now it is a carefully restored museum site which brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to this out of the way part of the Russian steppe.
Back in the city, we visited the Temple of All Religions, which is more like a giant art project than a place of worship. This building is a labyrinth of halls/chapels devoted to the world’s main religions. It’s a bit of a mess inside, feeling more like an art workshop than a museum, or even a proper building. Significant portions are sill under construction, and there was no apparent floor plan from what I could tell. However, this was one of my favorite parts of the visit. As a metaphor for our struggle to respect one another as a human family is was perfect: messy and beautiful.
Russian words of the day: церковь (tser-kov) church; мечеть (me-chet) mosque